ROSE HILL – The chances that the volleyball teams from Pender and Lakewood High school could meet for a fourth time in the third round of the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs, which begin on Saturday, presents an interesting scenario – especially when you consider what has transpired the first three times – yes, three times – these two outstanding volleyball teams have met.
Lakewood came to Burgaw with a flawless record on Sept. 13 and fell 3-2 (23-25, 25-14, 25-18, 25-23) in five games. That set up the crucial rematch a little more than a week ago in Salemburg on Oct. 9 – a match that the Lady Leopards won 3-2 (24-26, 25-20, 15-25, 25-16, 14-16).
So it was only right that the finals of the Tri-County 1A Conference tournament would come down to a third match between the two regular-season co-champions, and why, too, wouldn’t it go to five games, what with the No. 1 seed in the tournament on the line.
It did, the Lady Patriots won, and now they get to play host to another conference rival for the third time this year.
Senior K. B. Hansley had 16 kills, three aces, and seven digs, and her classmate and teammate Kayvia Thompson added 11 kills, 3 aces, an assist, and 11 digs to the equation as Pender defeated Lakewood 3-2 (20-25, 25-20, 15-25, 25-21, 15-3) on Wednesday at Union High School in the finals of the conference’s tournament.
Pender (18-5) will be at home on Saturday when they will welcome Hobbton (10-11) to Burgaw in the opening round of the NCHSAA 1A state tournament at 6:00 p.m. Pender beat the Lady Wildcats 3-1 (25-15, 22-25, 25-16, 26-24) at Pender back on Aug. 28, and 3-2 (25-11, 25-5, 23-25, 21-25, 15-4) on the road on Sept. 20.
“It’s that time of the year, every game from here on out will start to get tougher and tougher,” Pender Coach Matt Davis said. “The last two games tonight our girls showed the heart that they are going to need to do what we want to do. We didn’t play perfect but we never quit.
“It would have been real easy for the girls to get frustrated after that third game and falter, but they didn’t. They hung together and kept moving forward until they found that light at the end of the tunnel. They got hit early but they played through it, and I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of them
As one might expect the atmosphere in the Union gymnasium was electric as the two teams to the floor. From the first serve to the last the crowd was in the game cheering on their respective teams.
Surprisingly, the Lady Patriots got off to a sluggish start. Lakewood’s serving game was tough and they were forcing bad passes and getting aces while Pender struggled with its serve.
Lakewood came out strong and kept a lead pretty much throughout. Pender fought back but the serving was the difference as the Lady Leopards kept getting aces and forcing bad passes, and Pender did not.
The second game was an entirely different story. Hansley, who stepped up to the plate and carried the Lady Patriots all night, gave her team a spark with a tough service run followed by Ruby Gasca with a run that included three aces, giving Pender a nine-point lead and forcing Lakewood to use both of their time outs.
But Lakewood made their runs and cut the lead to seven, then five, before Thompson closed out the game with a nice kill. Sophomore Brianna Pittman helped frustrate the Lady Leopards with five blocks in the game.
Game three started out much like game two but Pender’s passing, while it had improved, was just not where the Lady Patriots needed it to be. Lakewood jumped out to an 8-3 lead as they cruised to a 10-point win.
Just when it looked like Pender would have to settle for the runner-up trophy, something special happened. With all the momentum on Lakewood’s side, the Lady Patriots slowly – one point at a time – began to claim it back.
Hansley began to pick it up again and her play and infectious leadership got everyone back into the game and she, by sheer will and determination, willed the Lady Patriots to a win, tying the match at 2-2.
Once the Lady Patriots won that game, the girls in the red, white, and blue uniforms started feeding off one another. Pender opened an early 4-1 lead in the 15-point fifth game behind strong serving from Thompson and Jackie Sanabria, and Hansley’s play at the net.
“Lakewood called a timeout at that point and when the girls came into the huddle I said to them ‘Y’all got it,’ and they did,” Davis said. “Just as the seniors have done all year they took the emotions from the early run and kept it going after the timeout.”
Pender promptly opened up an 8-2 lead, and the Lady Leopards took another timeout.
“There was nothing that I was going to say to make them play any better,” Davis said. “Sometimes, as a coach, you’ve just got to stay out of the way.’
It wasn’t as if Lakewood played bad, it was more like the Lady Patriots were in a zone. Every ball that the Lady Leopards hit Pender dug out. Pender’s will to win in that last game is what got them through as they recorded a surprisingly easy 15-3 victory.
Lakewood 25-20-25-21- 3
Pendr: K. B. Hansley 16 kills, 3 aces, 7 digs; K. B. Hansley 11 kills, 1assist, 3 aces, 11 digs; Brenee’ Jones 2 kills, 2 blocks, 1 dig; Ruby Gasca 4 aces 1 dig; Jackie Sanabria 29 assists, 1 block, 4 aces, 1 dig; Alyssa Carter 7 kills, 1 block, 2 aces, 3 digs; Brianna Pittman 6 kills, 14 blocks, 1 dig; Cassidy Miller 3 kills, 2 aces, 7 digs; Katy Stewart 5 assists; Amber Pyland 1 dig.
Lakewood: Allyson Heinz 29 assists, 12 points; Morgan Herring 15 points, 13 kills, 2 blocks; Bailey Dudley 20 points, 12 kill; Teisha Rich 16 points, 17 kills; Rashyda Parker 12 kills, 5 blocks; Jache’ Servance 4 kills, 2 blocks; Katie Stewart 8 points; Anna Heinz 13 points,.